Romaine Lettuce

A farm worker picks romaine lettuce in Salinas Valley.

Thanksgiving is complicated enough, between making sure the turkey doesn’t dry out and the relatives don’t get into a fight over the latest hot topic issues. Now add making sure the only tummy trouble guests leave with is from eating too much pie.

In the past week, two popular food items have been recalled: romaine lettuce and ground turkey. This is the second time this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is advising consumers to toss any romaine lettuce they’ve purchased.

The recall is potentially challenging economic news for Monterey County lettuce growers, who produced a romaine crop worth over $655 million in 2017, according to the latest Monterey County Crop Report.

It's an important enough crop to the valley that Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) is jumping into the issue.

"I am engaging with the FDA and romaine lettuce producers about this outbreak," he said in a statement released Nov. 20.

"As the representative of the ‘Salad Bowl of the World,’ food safety is of the utmost importance to me and my constituents as it is for the health of American consumers. I will continue to gather evidence and am committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure the food produced across our country is safe."

The most recent outbreak started around Oct. 8, when states began reporting that people were falling ill to a toxin-producing strain of E. coli, according to the CDC. By Oct. 31, 11 states reported that 32 people became ill, with 13 hospitalized, including one patient with kidney failure. As of Nov. 20, no deaths are reported. Canadian officials have also reported that 18 people in two provinces became ill with the same strain of E. coli.

Evidence shows that romaine lettuce is the likely source of the current outbreak, although where it’s coming from is still a mystery. CDC officials say this E. coli has the same DNA as a 2017 outbreak caused by people eating leafy greens—which included romaine in some instances—but differs from the spring E. coli outbreak caused by romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, harvested in March and April.

Between March and late June, more than 200 people in 36 states were sickened during that outbreak, with more than 95 hospitalized. Five people died in California, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York. DNA evidence helped officials pinpoint the lettuce from Yuma as the culprit. The growing season there runs generally from mid-November to early April, then shifts back to the Salinas Valley from spring until fall.

Since the CDC is still investigating the source, officials are taking no chances by recommending all romaine gets tossed into the trash.

“Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the website states.

It includes all types of the lettuce, including whole heads, hearts of romaine and bags or boxes of pre-cut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine or baby romaine. They also recommend thoroughly washing and sanitizing any refrigerator drawers or shelves where the lettuce was kept.

Restaurants are also being advised to stop serving any romaine lettuce until further notice, so no Caesar salad for now.

Also in the past week, the Monterey County Health Department made sure residents are aware of another recall of raw ground varieties of Jennie-O Turkey—approximately 91,388 pounds worth—linked to an outbreak of salmonella across the country.

The suspect turkey was all produced on Sept. 11, and included one-pound packages of raw ground turkey, taco seasoned ground turkey and Italian seasoned ground turkey. More information about specific packages in the recall is available on the county's website.

As for the whole birds more common to Thanksgiving Day, the Health Department has a list of suggestions on its website about how to keep people safe from foodborne illnesses with proper handling and storage of turkeys and other popular holiday foods.

Editor's Note: This post was updated with new information from the office of Congressman Jimmy Panetta.

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(1) comment

Michael Donovan

Nic Coury, there is not a recall on romaine. READ the facts. The CDC and FDA statements are both advisories.

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